Deal With One Player

“Deal With One Player”

By: Bob Sumpter, NISOA, Florida


There are many skills the Referee has to develop in order to be successful.  Some of the more important are those various skills it takes to manage the behavior of players who infringe on the rules or guidelines for acceptable behavior. One in particular has to do with isolating and dealing with a player who commits misconduct, or whose behavior nears the point of misconduct. A companion skill to this is to isolate yourself when needed.

When having to deal with player misconduct, one of the recognizable skills a Referee should develop has to do with the ability to isolate that player in order to deal with the matter, in a way so that the Referee can obtain the complete attention of that player and also avoid having to deal with other players who might try to interfere with the Referee’s action.

Isolation, in this sense, is the ability to get a player aside and away from others so that your corrective or preventive action involving misconduct or possible misconduct is completed without interference. You have probably seen such techniques used by your colleagues, Perhaps some of the techniques discussed in this article will add to those you have developed to date.

This article discusses a number of possible variations in the skill of isolating a player that might be considered.


At a Caution

The most common instance is when you have decided to Caution a player. Your first act after the whistle is to motion to the player to stay in place. If the player begins to move off, indicate by gesture and voice for the player to stop. Then you move to the player and administer the Caution. This is the ideal situation, when no complication presents itself.

However, in some instances a player will continue to move away and not stop even if you indicate to do so. In this instance you should again use voice and gesture to make it clear that the player is to stop moving away. Also, be prepared to move half-way towards the player to get his/her attention by whatever combination of whistle, gesture, or voice is needed. Once done, you can then address the player using the recommended mechanic and complete the Caution.

Should the player continue to move off after you have indicated not to do so, a technique used by many Referee’s is to advise the player who keeps moving away that he/she might just as well continue on to the locker room, as an Ejection will be the result for persisting in further misconduct. A short verbal warning is often effective. It may also be effective to point to the pocket in which you keep your misconduct card(s), since most players will understand the significance of the gesture.

Interference by others during a Caution

Many times when attempting to Caution a player the Referee will be approached by one or more teammates of the player who try to protest the Caution decision. In this instance, you should use firm voice communication and gestures to indicate to players to stay away or move away. Often Referees use the outstretched arms with palms up and facing the interfering players while using a pushing motion to indicate that those players are to keep away.

In this instance, where non-involved players approach to interfere with a Caution you have decided to administer, it’s important to have the players stay away and move off so that you have the attention of the player being cautioned. Any continued act of interference by non-involved players after you have given direction by voice or gesture to stay away should be considered as possible misconduct, and may result in a decision by you to either Caution or Eject the interfering players (as appropriate) so that you can get on with the original Caution. Players have no right to interfere with your actions to control misconduct. The additional gesture of pointing to the pocket in which you keep your misconduct cards will also not be lost of interfering players.

At a penalty kick call

In this instance, your aim is to isolate (i.e., remove yourself) away from dissenting players. When you have made the call, you will probably be quite close to the area where several players of both sides are grouped, somewhere in front of a goal. Your immediate aim is to get the kick set up and taken as quickly as possible. Your target position (as described in the mechanics) for the taking of the kick is to be inside the penalty area with only the kicker and goalkeeper.

Understand that at least one-half of the players on the field will likely NOT agree with your decision, and that among those players who disagree some will want to argue with you about the call.  Nevertheless, your decision is (and should be understood by all as) final, and that the next step is for you to manage the taking of the awarded penalty kick, without having to spend unnecessary time trying to overcome dissenting or protesting actions by the penalized team.

Remember that you have awarded a penalty kick as punishment for a serious, deliberate rules violation. All of your actions during your management of the penalty kick should firmly emphasize that protest or dissent is not an allowed option.

When setting up the kick, do not automatically move to the penalty spot. Instead, if too many players are about the penalty spot, quickly move away from the penalty spot area to the side where you intend to position yourself to oversee the penalty kick. This begins an important procedure to separate yourself from among players who may try to dissent or protest against your decision. It’s preferable to not have dissenting players approach or confront you. (Note: some mechanics guidelines state that the Referee should pick up the ball and place it on the penalty line or spot. However, when you anticipate that players may approach you to dissent against the call, an alternate mechanic should be considered.)

Do not place the ball on the penalty line or spot; instead, allow the kicker to place the ball. That also allows you to isolate yourself from gathering players. However, be prepared to advise the kicker to correctly place the ball on the line or spot, or to “hurry up” if he/she seems to be taking too long to place the ball for the kick. The sooner the kick is taken, the better it is for the game. Indicate clearly to the kicker to wait for your whistle before taking the kick.

Separating yourself from dissenting players in this instance will help your control over player behavior and expedite the taking of the penalty kick.

Additional considerations

If players try to follow or try to approach you as you move to the side to a position from which you intend to oversee a kick or other restart, gesture clearly and firmly with your hands and arms for them to stop heading toward you.

Do not reply to anything any player, or players, say to you in any attempt to dissent or protest. Your decision is not to be questioned.

If a player persists, point to your pocket holding the yellow card to indicate that a caution might be the result of dissent or protest. Most players will understand the significance of your gesture when pointing to your pocket.

If you do decide to direct a remark to a dissenting or protesting player, keep it brief, firm, and make sure it is phased so that a response from the player is not an option.

Of course, continued dissent after you’ve tried to avoid confrontation with players can then be penalized by a Caution, and – if dissent persists – by an Ejection.

Isolating a player when managing the wall

This sounds like an oxymoron. Dealing with an encroaching defensive wall of players doesn’t usually afford the opportunity to isolate any one of the players. However, a technique taught to me some years back seemed to accomplish it. It involves the case where a wall is too close to the free kick, the Referee has difficulty in getting the players in the wall to move back, and decides to Caution players in the wall to get it set properly.

The Referee identifies and approaches the “ringleader”, and proceeds to Caution that player while the rest of the players in the wall remain in place. As the Referee advises the “ringleader” that he/she is Cautioned, the Referee briefly turns to the next player and tells that player “and if you don’t move back by the time I’m finished with this player, you’re next!” The Referee then turns back to complete cautioning the “ringleader”.

This mechanic is often successful. That “next” player will most likely move in order to avoid a Caution, and the Referee will not have to continue with the others.

The Referee Team

You can briefly discuss an additional technique as part of the pre-game Referee Team briefing. If ever in a game you, as Referee, become surrounded (front and back) with dissenting players, your objective should be to “cut down the numbers” to deal with. To help achieve that goal, discuss with the Assistant Referees guidelines about coming onto the field during such a stoppage to help isolate and disperse dissenting players. One suggestion is to ask the ARs to deal with those dissenting players who are behind you. That way, you will be able to concentrate your efforts on those whom you face, thus limiting the problem.


Management of player behavior is a prime requirement for the Referee. When a player misbehaves, and you decide to deal with that player, you should try to make sure to address that player only, without the distraction of having other players nearby seeking to protest your decision. The examples above describe some fairly common examples of what might occur, and how you can use different techniques to keep proper control over such incidents. As you experience more and varied incidents during the games you referee, you will undoubtedly come across other similar incidents. These suggestions are meant to help you meet these types of challenges successfully.